Take the Plastic Free Pledge: Choose to Refuse!

Summer vacation means more parties, picnics, and eating on-the-go! It’s time to reflect on our disposable habits. Plastic Free July highlights how our short-term convenient choices can have long-term impacts on our environment.

Did You Know?

“Eight out of ten items found on beaches in international coastal cleanups are related to eating and drinking,” according to One World One Ocean. This is one problem with an easy solution: choose to refuse!

Top five ways to reduce plastic in your daily life:

  1. Bring your own bag. The average time each plastic bag is used is less than 15 minutes
  2. Bring your own bottle. The amount of water used to produce a plastic bottle is 6 to 7 times the amount of water in the bottle.
  3. Bring your own mug. Many coffee shops give a discount if you bring your own container!
  4. Choose cardboard and paper packaging over plastic containers and bags. Less than 14 percent of plastic packaging– the fastest-growing type of packaging–gets recycled.
  5. Kick the disposable straw habit. Plastic straws are not recyclable.. If you must use a straw, try a reusable one made of stainless steel or bamboo.

Take The Woodlands Plastic Free Pledge for a FREE stainless steel reusable straw and let us know how YOU will break your disposable habit!

Explore more easy tips here! Encourage others to BYO with these posters!


At home and on the go, when you can’t reduce, remember to recycle! Discover new opportunities to recycle beyond the norm at this year’s 3R Bazaar on November 9th at The Woodlands Farmer’s Market at Grogan’s Mill. Bring batteries, toothbrushes, textiles, eyeglasses and more for special recycling collections. Need more information? Call the Environmental Services Department at 281-210-3800.

World Ocean Day : The cost of litter

June 8th is World Ocean Day, a celebration of the mysterious blue waters that cover 70% of the planet and provide a home for  50-80% of all life on earth. Healthy oceans and coasts provide services that are critical to sustaining life on land including climate regulation, food, medicines, and even compounds that make peanut butter easy to spread!


Source: NOAA Why Care About The Ocean?

Currently, the largest threat to the ocean is pollution, primarily from plastics. Plastics, synthetic organic polymers normally created from petroleum, are so long lasting that all the plastic that has ever been created still exists today. Once they enter our waters, plastics entangle marine life or erode into smaller particles that are then ingested. Every piece of litter we pick up on land, including here in The Woodlands, helps the ocean and the life within.

Where does pollution come from?

The majority of ocean pollution originates on land as trash that blows out of landfills, litter that was left behind in outdoor spaces, waste from processing facilities and illegal dumping. Litter can travel long distances through storm drains, lakes and rivers to reach the ocean.   Located in the Gulf Coast Region, litter in The Woodlands eventually makes its way to the Gulf of Mexico if we don’t take the opportunity to remove it before it enters our waterways.  Beach goers and recreational boaters visiting our lakes and shores can greatly reduce ocean pollution by properly disposing of any trash, especially fishing nets, plastics bottles and bags. 

What does it cost?

Litter costs Texas taxpayers $40 million annually in clean up efforts, according to the Texas Department of Transportation. If every Texan picked up two pieces of trash each month, our highways would be completely litter-free in just one year. That money could be reallocated towards other programs working to clean our oceans. 

The top litter items found in the environment are cigarette butts and food/retail industry waste such as take out containers, straws and cutlery.

Let’s answer the call to action for our oceans!

Here’s how we can make a difference:

  1. Coordinate your own cleanup
  • Bring a bucket to the beach, one for treasures and one for trash; recycle what you can

2. Support an organization

  • There are many groups forming their own cleanups. Become involved or consider making a donation.

3. Not able to make it to the shoreline? There’s plenty you can do at home

  • Reduce plastics by, purchasing items with less packaging when shopping
  • Reuse as much as you canbring your own bags & bottles
  • Refuse single use plastics such as straws, bags and cutlery.

What is your plastic footprint?

Earth Day 2019 It's in your hands

Ever feel like you need a PhD to recycle correctly? Here’s a trick for the next time you are about to put plastic in the curbside cart: look for a neck and a number. Accepted plastics are easily identified by their narrow “neck” as seen on a bottle of water, shampoo or detergent. Look closely and you’ll see a number printed on the bottom too – ensure that it’s not #6 and you can confidently recycle that plastic curbside.

Recyclable plastic bottles

What about all the other plastics without a neck or a number? Plastic bags, packaging, case wraps, disposable cutlery, straws, plates and cups cannot be put in the recycle cart. Avoid the temptation to “wishcycle” them – placing them in the recycling bin in the hope that they’ll magically be recycled. Limited markets and sorting technology for recyclables dictate which items are accepted.

Instead seek out a special local recycling opportunity for these other items. Plastic bags and films get tangled in the sorting machinery at the recycling facility, but they CAN be recycled at local grocery stores. Check out all the kinds of film that can be recycled this way – chances are if it stretches it can be recycled.

WRAP_TipCard

Although very important, recycling isn’t the only tool we have to fight plastic pollution. When it comes to disposable items, reducing dependence on single-use plastics and packaging is the key.

Tips to reduce plastic waste:

  • Bring your own reusable tote bags, produce or bulk bags, travel mugs, stainless steel straws, reusable cutlery and water bottles.
  • Purchase products with less packaging such as loose produce and bulk dry goods.
  • Recycle right. Get familiar with what is accepted in your curbside cart and local opportunities for other items.

In the spirit of Earth Day, consider taking an inventory of how much single-use plastic you generate and choose to reduce. EarthDay.org has plastic pollution footprint calculators and an action guide to get you started. For an interesting look at the rise and proliferation of plastics check out this article in the April edition of The Woodlands Community Magazine.

For more information on recycling and waste minimization, contact The Woodlands Township Environmental Services at enviro@thewoodlandstownship-tx.gov or 281-210-3800.

Monarchs on the move

The amazing monarch!

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Outweighed by a penny and powered by wings no wider than a toddler’s hand, the iconic monarch (Danaus plexippus) is right now embarking on the first stage of a migration that will cover upwards of 3000 miles, with some individuals traveling over 200 miles in a single day! They will wind their way across mountains, deserts, and cities, through multiple seasons and weather extremes, in a round-trip effort that will span five generations.

Monarchs in the United States are split into two populations, one east of the Rockies and the other west, along the Pacific Coast. The western monarchs spend their winter in California. Those to the east winter in the mountainous oyamel fir forests of southern Mexico.

It’s now in early spring when the eastern monarchs descend from the oyamel firs and move northward through Texas, allowing us to re-appreciate their beauty and marvel at their incredible stamina, navigational abilities, and the unique spectacle that is the monarch migration.

An epic journey

As temperatures warm and days lengthen, monarchs finish their development which was suspended over the winter, become reproductive and begin mating with fervor. Once mating completes, around February and March, the females leave the males behind in Mexico and head for the milkweed that is now sprouting across Texas.

And so the migration back to the United States and Canada begins.

MonarchMap-NatureServe-10.20
Used with the permission of the Xerces Society  https://xerces.org/monarchs/

The energy expended to complete this first leg of the journey is tremendous. After six weeks or so, now March and April, the female monarchs must find a milkweed leaf on which to deposit their eggs before they die. Once laid, four days will pass before the eggs hatch into voracious eating machines – baby monarch caterpillars.

Monarch caterpillars feast night and day on the leaves of their host plant and, incredibly, will gain 200 times their body weight in just two weeks. When the feasting ends they form their chrysalis and spend the next 10 days metamorphosing into an adult butterfly, vibrating with color and ready to renew the march north. This is generation 1, the offspring of the butterflies that overwintered in Mexico.

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Monarch chrysalis

Several more generations will live and die over the summer, travelling further afield, but just one generation will make the entire journey back to the oyamel firs beginning in October.

The fall migration is even more dramatic than the spring, after reproduction has bolstered the population, dozens and even hundreds can be spotted hourly.

Creating safe havens for pollinators in our yards and communities provides vital waystations during spring and fall migrations.

The migration in crisis

Once 700 million strong, monarch populations have now crashed. It’s estimated the eastern population has plummeted by more than 85% while the western population is suffering even more – only 28,000 were counted this winter. Multiple issues are to blame:

Habitat loss and fragmentation. Over 160 million acres of monarch habitat has been lost to development since 1996.  Illegal logging of the overwintering sites in Mexico is also taking a toll.

Climate change. The increased frequency and intensity of extreme weather events can devastate migrating populations. Because of the incredible density of monarchs in the overwintering grounds, severe freezes there are catastrophic.

Pesticides and herbicides. Milkweed used to grow throughout corn and soybean crops across the south and midwest. But herbicides have driven milkweed to near extinction in these agricultural landscapes and depleted monarch populations along the way.  Monarchs are also being impacted by neonicotinoids, a new class of insecticides that spread their toxins through the plant’s tissues. Caterpillars that dine on these plants quickly perish.

OE. Ophryocystis elektroscirrha (OE) is a parasite that infects monarchs, causing them to die in the pupal stage or emerge deformed. Milder infections result in shorter life spans and an inability to fly properly. OE pervades in our area as non-native tropical milkweed (Asclepias curassavica) continues to grow through the cooler months, after native milkweeds have died back. Follow these important steps if you choose to grow tropical milkweed.

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Monarchs overwintering in the oyamel fir forest of Mexico

What You Can Do

Join The Woodlands Township Plant for Pollinators Program. Through this program you can…

Learn

  • Get notified of upcoming lectures, classes and workshops by signing up for the Township’s Environmental Services blog and calendar updates. These free events focus on pollinators, native plants, invasives removal, organic gardening, no-chemical pest control and more.
  • Ask for a presentation on the Plant for Pollinators program and how to create habitat from the Township’s team of Environmental Education Specialists.
  • Follow the monarch migration with Journey North, check out the Pollinator Partnership’s Million Garden Challenge and more with these partner links.

Grow

Choose a sunny spot

Volunteer

  • Volunteers are needed for larger community planting projects. Help to weed, seed and spread habitat for all types of pollinators. Contact enviro@thewoodlandstownship-tx.gov if you or your group can lend a hand.

Observe

  • Download the easy-to-use iNaturalist app on your phone and monitor your habitat for monarchs and other pollinators. Your findings will support the Plant for Pollinators Project. It’s also a great way to learn more about nature!

Healthier lawns, cleaner streams

One thoughtful action can help promote both: Think before you fertilize. All too often, lawns are fertilized too heavily, at the wrong time, or when they don’t need it at all—thanks to the formidable marketing efforts by fertilizer companies. Instead of automatically reaching for your spreader, consider what your lawn really needs and the consequences of over-fertilization.

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Know what your lawn needs

Timing. The time to fertilize a lawn is when it’s growing more roots than blades; and to know when that is, know the type of grass in the lawn. Grass can be categorized in two ways: warm-season or cool-season. These terms refer to the weather in which the grass has adapted to grow. Turf grasses most common in our area, St. Augustine, Zoysia and Bermuda, are all warm-season grasses and start their growth in spring, making that the best time for fertilization.

Fall is when these grasses go dormant making fertilizers moot. Fertilizing at the wrong time can actually be harmful. Feeding your warm-season turf nitrogen in fall can force new top growth making the lawn susceptible to frost, shock and disease. What’s more is that this takes away energy from root growth, leading to weak, thin lawns.

No matter what, always follow a fertilizer’s instructions exactly when it comes to application.

Test it. Having said all this, don’t assume you need to fertilize every spring. The only way to know what nutrients your soil is lacking is to have your soil tested. Instructions for how to take a soil sample and the form for sending it to Texas A&M for analysis can be found with this link: Soil Test Form.

Go organic. If you find your soil needs supplemental nutrients for turf grass, consider using organic instead of synthetic fertilizers. Unlike synthetic fertilizers, organic fertilizers don’t create high levels of salts which kill beneficial soil organisms—the key to good soil health. And organic fertilizers work slowly, wasting nothing. They also improve soil texture making it easier for air to get to the roots and helping the soil retain water longer.

Organic forms of fertilizers include:

  • Alfalfa meal
  • Bat guano
  • Fish emulsion
  • Cotton seed meal
  • Seaweed
  • Manure
  • Compost

Refer to Best Organic Fertilizers for a full list of organic fertilizers and what they specifically offer.

How does this affect the quality of streams?

When quick-release synthetic fertilizers are over used, the chemicals are washed from our lawns in a downpour. The polluted run-off is channeled into the nearest waterway via storm drains, untreated and unfiltered. This water in turn contaminates our creeks, rivers and groundwater. High concentrations of nitrogen in water can also lead to an algae overgrowth, threatening the health of aquatic life.

Pond-LVphoto

Currently, over 80% of waterways in Texas are listed by the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality as “impaired,” creating poor habitat for aquatic organisms such as fish and turtles. High bacteria levels are another culprit and may lead to restrictions on water-contact recreation, such as  swimming and wading, fishing, and kayaking.

Other ways to help keep our water clean:

  • Pick up pet waste—it’s the number one source of bacteria in our waterways.
  • Maintain cars so they don’t leak oil and other chemicals onto driveways.
  • Compost, compost, compost.
  • Never flush unwanted or out-of-date medicines down the toilet or drain.
  • Minimize areas of turf grass and pavement while increasing areas of native plants
  • Install a rain garden

For more information about lawn care, download Guide to Yard Care, by Texas Commission on Environmental Quality.

To learn more about water conservation in The Woodlands, visit The Woodlands Township’s Water Conservation webpage.

Water Conservation Yard Sign 3